Back in September, I spent three days and three nights immersed in the local tango scene in Portland, Oregon (reporting for my recent New York Times story: In Portland, A Warm Embrace of Tango). By day, I interviewed dancers and teachers, observed practice sessions, and took my first one-on-one tango lesson. By night, I attended milongas in ballrooms and dance studios across the city, taking a seat in a quiet corner to listen to the music, watch the dancers, and observe some of the local traditions.
After lots of watching and talking to dancers, on my final day in Portland I arrived at Tango Berretin for my first private lesson with renowned teacher Alex Krebs. I had the wrong shoes and my jeans were a far cry from the flowy dresses many women seemed to don on the dance floor, but there was no one else in the studio, and it didn’t really matter. We began by standing in front of the mirror, focusing in on our bodies, our posture, increasing awareness of what space my body was occupying. The next step was to re-learn how to walk; I constantly was compelled to look down at my feet, but the chest-to-chest close embrace of tango made this virtually impossible. Quite quickly, without me even knowing what my body was doing, I was moving in a way that resembled tango, my feet were finding the right places, they were listening to the non-verbal physical directions of a skilled leader. I realized I had never danced with someone who truly knew how to dance, to lead, and how surprisingly easy that makes it to follow.